Creating Great Employer Brands
By James T Stodd, SPHR
As the economy improves many employers are revisiting their efforts to distinguish themselves from other local, regional and national employers as they attract and retain capable talent. In today’s vernacular … distinguishing yourself means establishing and maintaining a successful employer brand that will speak to prospects and recruits, as well as, providing a retention strategy. In this article we highlight practical and proven lessons about how to establish and maintain the type of “employer” brand that will successfully meet those attraction and retention requirements.
Characteristics of Successful “Brands”
Over the years I’ve listened to many speakers and read a number of books and articles by experts on the topic of “creating powerful brands”. Of all the lectures, pointers and advice offered by those branding experts, the lessons that have struck home with me the most were those offered by Debra Valle, Founder of Marketing U, Inc. In her book Selling the Brand When It’s You, Ms. Valle offers the following advice(1):
“A company’s unique “brand” is the tapestry of words, feelings, associations and images that pop into mind when a person hears a company’s name!”
From this definition it is clear that the objective of a brand is that your company name, logo, jingle or other stimulus produces an almost unconscious – positive – emotional response. Valle goes on to suggest that great brands tend to generate a number of positive emotions including trust, loyalty, passion and pride. That sounds great, but what can employers do to create and sustain such emotions among candidates, recruits and existing staff members? Below we provide some suggestions that may help you distinguish your organization within the competitive arena.
Some Practical Lessons
1. Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a great “employer brand”…there are only great “company brands”! No one ever says “Hey, even though their products are marginal and their customer service sucks, it’s still a great place to work”. That just doesn’t happen! So the first thing human resource and organization development leaders need to do is help with the collective effort of creating a stellar company brand.
2. Clearly establish your “brand objective” (how you want your organization to be positioned in the minds of customers, employees and investors) as well as your “brand promise” (what they can and should expect from you). 3. All great brands start with the “customer experience”! Having capable, engaged and empowered employees is critical to creating that positive experience. Conversely, great brand also help attract and retain the top talent necessary for delivering that positive experience. It’s a virtuous spiral.
4. If organizational leaders are going to be successful in providing the absolute “best” in customer experience, they must start by setting a positive example, in every way.
5. As leaders you need to treat employees with at least the same level of respect, care and concern you expect them to demonstrate to customers. Once you’ve demonstrated a willingness to “walk the talk”, then you can rightly establish your expectations of others and hold everyone (including yourself) accountable.
6. Investors (including those that donate time or money to nonprofits) cannot be treated frivolously; they must be brought into agreement with the brand promise and realize success in terms of their own expectations.
7. It is critical to effectively articulate your mission, vision and values on paper first, then verbally and behaviorally, in every aspect of daily organizational life.
8. Establish ongoing efforts to get the “buzz” on your organization, including what’s being said in social media. What are people saying? Why do people choose to associate with you? What are their expectations? How do they perceive your “brand promise”? Why do some people hesitate to associate with you, and is that “Okay”?
9. Identify the strengths that can be leveraged as well as the weaknesses that are holding you back. For HR professionals this also means understanding both your accessibility as well as your processes for hiring, on-boarding, coaching/developing, termination, and providing references etc.
10. Know your competition! Assess their strengths and weakness from the viewpoint of those who might choose to associate with you (or them), then launch your competitive strategy.
11. Re-craft, re-fine and re-communicate your “brand promise”…it’s an ongoing effort!
12. Sell your “brand promise” internally first, and ensure commitment, before extending it to the outside world (customers and investors).
13. Use your branding efforts as an ongoing emotional dialogue between your organization and your customers, employees and investors (through direct conversation, surveys, focus groups, etc.)
14. Use training and development programs to identify, develop, re-affirm and maintain focus on critical “brand behaviors”. Emphasize those behaviors in succession planning, mentoring and performance evaluation programs as well.
15. Finally, ensure salary administration programs (merit raises), incentive plans and other reward programs rewarding those “brand behaviors” that are fully aligned with your brand promise.
1 Valle, Debra S., Selling the Brand When It’s You: An Intuitive Guide to Your Distinctive Brand Story; Los Alamitos, CA: Marketing U, Inc., 2003.